The Stormlight Archive is intimidating to new readers of the fantasy genre. At a whopping 1,248 pages, Oathbringer is the third installment in Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy epic series The Stormlight Archive. Published in November 2017, Oathbringer follows the newly-founded Knights Radiant as they prepare their world for the Desolation, and against the Voidbringers who may destroy humanity.
For those new to the series, The Stormlight Archive follows a large cast of characters in a world constantly bombarded with high storms, massive hurricanes also flushing out stormlight, this world’s power source, to gemhearts, the currency of this world in all senses. Humans are at war with Parshmen, a marbled-skinned race who sent an assassin to kill King Gavilar, which sparks the war. Spren, shards of creation, flit about as physical remnants of emotions, and can bond with humans and Parshmen. Each book is at least 1,000 pages, and each book focuses on one of the Knights Radiant’s backstories, so far being Kaladin, Shallan and now Dalinar. Interludes consisting of short stories set within the Cosmere break apart the main storyline, an unusual format not seen in many fantasy epics. These stories, some only 2-3 pages, become relevant in later books.
With this series Sanderson brings together what he calls the Cosmere, a multi-universe spread across The Mistborn Trilogy, Elantris, Warbreaker, The Emperor’s Soul, Arcanum Unbounded, and the graphic novel White Sand. But don’t let that stop you from tackling Stormlight without having read these stories, for The Stormlight Archive can be read without the other books.
Oathbringer continues the story of three youngling Knights Radiant as readers understand at the end of Words of Radiance: Shallen, Kaladin, Dalinar and his son Renarin as they struggle to rebuild the Ten Orders of the Knights Radiant. Spoilers abound! Having read most of Sanderson’s books, I find The Stormlight Archive the best of his books. Sanderson lovingly layers in worldbuilding details in this installment, breathing life into this world as much as Vivenna breathes color into the gray, dreary world of Warbreaker.
Before I get into the actual review I wanted to GUSH over the artwork in this volumne. When Words of Radiance came out I made the mistake of reading the ebook copy, which contains illustrations from Shallan’s sketchbook as well as other artwork that convey additional worldbuilding. Oathbringer knocks both Way of Kings and WoR out of the park with its gorgeous endpapers and worldmap embedded in the dust cover.
Unity in Roshar
Undoubtedly the overarching theme that runs through this book is unity. Oathbringer begins and ends with marriage, both expected (Navani and Dalinar; Shallan and Adolin). As more and more Radiants manifest they bond with a spren, and evil versions of this bond manifest with the Fused Parshmen and Renarin, who is revealed to be a false Radiant.
Dalinar “The Blackthorn” Kholin’s backstory is the core arc of Oathbringer. A burning question about Dalinar’s past is answered–we learn that Dalinar cannot remember his wife’s name, Evi (formerly referred to as Shshshsh)), because a force named the Thrill–a bloodthirsty compulsion responsible for Dalinar’s reputation as a bloodthirsty Alethi youth–instigates his thirst for war. Dalinar’s primary goal, to unite the Alethi highprinces with his shardblade named Oathbringer, succeeds, but at the cost of accidentally murdering Evi and other innocents. We learn of Dalinar’s alcoholism, his struggle to accept his responsibilities, and the additional pressures of becoming a diplomat after war. Dalinar, in his attempt to unite nations with war and a marriage to a foreign woman, becomes a broken man after facing his war crimes. Unable to cope with his PTSD and war crimes, young Dalinar faces a being called the Nightwatcher, who removes all of memory of Evi in exchange for removing the voices of the innocents he killed during the war of unification. In this installment Dalinar must unite the nations, who do not believe the Knights Radiant have returned and the Oathgates connecting these people to Urithiru exist. As he works to accomplish this goal he struggles with his returning memories of the war, his guilt over his war crimes, and the uncertainties he faces as a new Radiant.
This theme of unity culminates with Dalinar bringing the three Realms (Physical, Cognitive, and Spiritual) together, allowing the Radiants trapped in Shadesmar to escape and provide support to the final battle sequence. For those who know of the larger cosmological scope, we know the Cosmere is shattered, with each world in the other Sanderson novels being a shard of Adonalsium, which give the various worlds their magic. With Dalinar now able to unite the realms, Oathbringer may hint that the events of The Stormlight Archive may lead to a larger cosmological rearranging of a universe, with a promises of similar events revealed in Hero of Ages.
Oathbringer reminds me that The Stormlight Archives is connected to the Cosmere with its blatant references to Warbreaker and Mistborn. While in Shadesmar our Knights Radiant encounter spren who can control metal, and hints at metallurgy. Szeth, the Assassin in White who killed King Gavilar, comes upon a sword once owned by Vivienna, who appears as a main character in Warbreaker. And the ever-present
There are Radiants left to be discovered. As Sanderson has stated that Stormlight is intended to be 10 books, and knowing now that there are 10 Orders we can expect book 4 to cover another Radiant’s backstory. Since we know Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar’s backstories, I predict that book 4 will delve into Jasnah’s backstory. For in Oathbringer, not only is it revealed that she survived the assassination attempt in Words of Radiance, but it is also revealed that she experienced bouts of “lunacy” as a child. As a reader I can guess that the lunacy originated from her bonding with Ivory, her spren.
Unity in the Cosmere
The fantasy genre is experiencing a Renaissance of sorts, as writers explore new cultures, new histories, and sexuality. Oathbringer is one of the many novels restoring the epic in Epic Fantasy. Throughout the novel, through character viewpoints both familiar and new, the reader is constantly reminded that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The spren who flit about are hinted to merely be the limbs of a much larger creature, one unseen to the untrained eye.
Although I sensed Sanderson’s tendency to reveal significant plot twists near the end of his novel, his enthusiasm for the epic of epic fantasy bleeds through the pages of this book. His primary goal, evident since Mistborn, seems to seep through the Cosmere by expanding what we know of high fantasy into the cosmic realm. It’s not just about how the magic can change the world–it’s about how it can change the universe as our heroes know it. Long-time readers understand that Investiture, or putting oneself”s soul or physical energy into a magic, is important to all magic systems in the Cosmere. In Oathbringer, more than previous Stomlight books, I spotted themes from The Emperor’s Soul (Investiture into one’s emotional state and total empathy to replicate another’s soul), Mistborn (Investiture into metal), Elantris (Investiture into the land), Warbreaker (Investiture into the color and spirit of one’s world), and Stormlight (Investiture into one’s soul with another, completely fusing ). Upon stepping back I can see the shards of creation scattered across the Cosmere. What amount of Investiture, and what kind, will combine the shattered shards of creation and unite the Cosmere?
That is not to say that the Stormlight Archive will achieve its goal, as it is at risk of collapsing on the weight of its massive, multi-universe worldbuilding. As of this review I have yet to see what secrets lie in the next White Sand installment. Granted, the last time I read Elantris and the Mistborn Trilogy was in high school when the books came out, and Oathbringer made me realize how due for a reread I am. But overall I enjoyed this latest installment, and of the promises it makes for future volumes.
- The Original Mistborn Trilogy
- Arcanum Unbounded (including Edgedancer)
- The Emperor’s Soul